The Message in the Neatly Folded Napkin in Jesus’ Tomb-Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
According to this forwarded email, the head covering over the body of Jesus Christ in the grave was a neatly “folded napkin.” It goes on to say that among Jews of the time a master would let his servants know whether he was finished eating or coming back to the table by the way he left his napkin. If he tossed it aside, he was finished. If he folded it, he was not finished and would return. The hidden message in the story is that by laying his “napkin” aside and neatly folded Jesus was saying he was coming back.
There are a couple of problems with this eRumor. One is the translation or interpretation of the Bible verse quoted. The other is the alleged Jewish custom referenced in the story.
The eRumor is based on whether the cloth was a “napkin” and was “folded” in the empty tomb of Jesus.
The story is based on the account of Jesus’ resurrection in John 20:7.
Here is how that verse is translated in one of the most widely-used versions of the Bible, the King James Version: “…and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.”
We checked seven of the most respected translations of the Bible to see how the translators handled this verse.
Three of them translated the cloth as a “napkin” (King James, American Standard, Revised Standard Version). Others translated it as a “burial cloth” (New International Version), a “handkerchief” (The New King James Version), or a “face-cloth” (New American Standard Bible). The Greek word is saudarion, which comes from a Latin word for “sweat.” It connotes, for example, a towel for wiping sweat. It is used in the Greek for a towel or cloth, but not specifically a table napkin.
The other key word is “folded.” Was the burial cloth or napkin left folded in the tomb?
Two of the translations used the word “folded” (New International Version, New King James Version). Others translated the word as “rolled up” (New American Standard Bible, American Standard Version, Revised Standard Version), or “wrapped together” (King James Version).
The Greek word is “entulisso,” which is from words that may mean to twist or to entwine.
The bottom line is that there is not agreement that it was a table napkin and not agreement that it was neatly folded in any meaningful way. The main meaning of John 20:7 is to convey that the cloth, which was placed over Jesus head or face at burial, was separate from the rest of his grave clothes.
We have checked numerous Bible study sources and have found nothing about this alleged Jewish custom of the folded napkins. We did not find any Bible scholars who have used this story and illustration about the meaning of the folded napkin.
Additionally we talked with a Jewish rabbi friend of TruthOrFiction.com’s who has been a life-long Orthodox Jew, a Jewish scholar, and lives in Jerusalem, Israel, and he said he’d never heard of it
The only references to this story that we found are from Internet postings and emails that seem to have originated in 2007.